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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is director Guy Ritchie's loud, stylized, violent take on the origin story of England's legendary king and the mythology surrounding his magical sword, Excalibur. Starring Charlie Hunnam and Jude Law, the movie includes most of Ritchie's signature touches -- quick cuts, rapid-fire dialog, humor in otherwise violent sequences, and creative strong language. Things frequently get pretty intense: There are several assassinations (some at close range, such as a throat-slashing) and battle sequences that destroy villages, castles, and people. There's a high body count; some of the deaths are bloodier and more disturbing than others. Language is occasionally salty, with one use of "f--king," and adults drink at pubs/meals. Arthur is brought up in a brothel; while nothing more graphic than kissing/lying on a bed with clothes on is shown, it's very clear what goes on there. Underlying the action are messages about teamwork and believing in yourself, and while the characters are flawed, the heroes are courageous and loyal.
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What's the story?
KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD is Guy Ritchie's retelling of one of the world's most enduring myths. It starts with the tale of how King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) defeated an evil mage's attempt to overthrow him but then fell to his own brother, Vortigern (Jude Law), who was willing to sacrifice his own wife for the throne. But before Vortigern can kill his young nephew -- Uther's heir, Arthur -- the toddler is saved by a prostitute and brought up in a city brothel. Two decades later, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) has become a formidable street fighter and protector of his brothel, while Vortigern is a tyrannical leader obsessed with complete control. When the waters part and Excalibur, stuck in a stone, reveals itself, Vortigern sends his guards to force all men of a certain age to attempt to pull it free. Sure of his inability to loose the weapon, Arthur is as shocked as everyone else when he's able to pull it free. Before Vortigern can kill Arthur publicly, a powerful mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) and a group of Uther Pendragon loyalists rescue Arthur and Excalibur and attempt to convince him to lead a coup and take his rightful place on the throne.
Is it any good?
Despite its talented cast and legendary subject matter, Ritchie's "Snatchelot" interpretation of the King Arthur story is too uneven to merit a franchise; but it is, at times, undeniably fun. It's a shame the movie isn't considerably better, because with its internationally appealing ensemble, it would've stood a chance at a decent franchise. Star Hunnam, who's best known for his seven seasons on Sons of Anarchy, has the charisma, gravitas, and physicality of a slightly bulkier, younger Brad Pitt. With his ability to talk fast and convincingly play a high-born prince bred in a low-born gutter, he's well cast.
It's a bit of a mess, but King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is diverting enough, especially for those who are already Ritchie fans (he even has a cameo in a key scene). Audiences who won't mind reveling in the chaos, the occasionally nonsensical plot points, the hammy villains, and the chemistry between Arthur and the beautiful, mysterious "Mage" (watch out for a spoiler regarding her identity in the credits) will have enough to keep them happy. There isn't much here from the classic version of the legend besides some of the names, so you don't need to know a thing about Arthurian legend (in fact, it's best NOT to) to follow along. There have been plenty of worse fantasy reboots, and at least this one has a brag-worthy cast.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. How much of it is necessary to the story? Does stylized, quickly edited fantasy violence have the same impact as lingering, realistic violence?
How does this compare to other versions of the King Arthur story you've seen/read? Do you prefer a more traditional adaptation or something like this? Why?
For those familiar with Guy Ritchie's other films -- how does this movie feature some of his signature touches? Why do you think it's being compared to Snatch and his other movies?
- In theaters: May 12, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: August 8, 2017
- Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Annabelle Wallis
- Director: Guy Ritchie
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures
- Character strengths: Teamwork
- Run time: 126 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language
- Last updated: January 8, 2021
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